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Church growth boosts ethical bank

31 July 2015

iSTOCK

Environmental cause: Blantyre Mill Hydro, a small hydro-electric power station based on the River Clyde in Lanarkshire, is one of Triodos's investments in the renewable energy sector 

Environmental cause: Blantyre Mill Hydro, a small hydro-electric power station based on the River Clyde in Lanarkshire, is one of Triodos's inve...

GROWING churches are an expanding market for Triodos, the bank that describes itself as a pioneer of ethical banking.

The bank has reported lending growth of nine per cent (to £565 million) in 2014, and is expanding its work with churches, most of them Evangelical, including several from the New Frontiers network.

“The Evangelical movement is probably the fastest and largest grouping in the UK, because we are seeing funding of auditoriums and car parks to cater for members of congregations,” the bank’s social and cultural team manager, Neil Hewitt, said last month.

Customers for its loans include Woodhill Evangelical Church, for a 300-seat auditorium, and Kainos Christian Fellowship Swindon Trust, for a house to provide supported lodgings for people in need.

Founded in the Netherlands in 1980, Triodos has operated in the UK for 20 years. It has about 36,000 depositors paying into personal savings accounts, and hopes to launch a personal current account towards the end of next year. It already offers current accounts to businesses and charities. The amount of funds entrusted to Triodos increased by 15.7 per cent last year to £754 million. Details of all the organisations the bank lends to are published online. They range from a sustainable-cycling business to organic farms and a social enterprise providing psychological therapies. Its criteria for faith groups state that they need to be “non-coercive expressions of religious belief” that “respect human freedom and nurture the spirit”. Scrutiny of the leadership was vital to ensure that the loan would be repaid, Mr Hewitt said.

“We look around congregations, the members, the mix, the demographics of it, and, probably above all, the management team, whether it be the pastor who leads it or that dynamic individual that acts as a catalyst for so many of the church’s activities. Having that skills mix within that management team is very important: spiritual guidance coupled with some good business sense.”

Mr Hewitt reports that “The amount of interest has been incredible. I think the banking crisis has made individuals very aware of how savings are being used, but, equally, there has been a change of emphasis in the Charities Act. Charities or trustees were mandated to get the best possible rate of return, but now they can also take into account social return. Many faith groups have come to us.”

Last month, The Daily Telegraph reported that a Cornish church had transferred from Lloyds to Triodos after the treasurer had spent 11 months trying to make a small change to its account.

The “huge demand for a current account with us” was a “big step-change”, Mr Hewitt said.

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